(What follows in an excerpt from The Business of Sports Agents, written by Kenneth L. Shropshire and Timothy Davis. The excerpt examines the Uniform Athlete Agents Act. To purchase the book, click here.)
The UAAA was drafted and promulgated without attempting to tackle issues beyond the recruitment of athletes by agents at the preprofessional level. Without question, had NCCUSL attempted to grapple with the full range of concerns beyond recruitment that negatively impact the sports agent business (for example, agent competency, conflicts of interest, fraud, and solicitation), the ensuing controversy would have delayed or perhaps even precluded the promulgation of the act. Notwithstanding the limitations of its mission, the UAAA “embodies most of the principles of the ‘aggressive’ sports legislation already in existence” in that it adopts the approach of existing statutes with the broadest scope and jurisdictional reach.
The UAAA provides a foundational basis for uniformity. Drawing from a complex and confusing web of existing state legislation, the UAAA standardizes registration, notice, and disclosure requirements. Standardization of these and other requirements provides a level of uniformity that hopefully will encourage agents to comply with the law in each state without incurring financial hardship and without having to understand the often confusing matrix of laws that currently exist. Thus the UAAA’s uniform registration and reciprocity provisions are key in effectuating the UAAA’s implicit goal of encouraging voluntary agent compliance with its requirements.
NCCUSL seeks to deliver two additional messages by virtue of its approach. The first is that quality control is someone else’s responsibility. That someone else is the respective players’ union for each league. The other regulator will be the market: as “bad” agents are exposed, prospective customers will get the word from disgruntled customers. The other message is that existing civil law concepts and criminal legislation are sufficient to address agent misconduct that adversely affects the interests of their athlete clients. All that has been lacking is rigorous enforcement.
The first UAAA-based indictment was filed in Louisiana. On October 13, 2006, a grand jury in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, charged Charles Taplin with two counts of violating Louisiana’s athlete agent statute, which is the UAAA. Taplin allegedly violated the UAAA’s registration and notification provisions when he sent text messages to two Louisiana State University (LSU) football players on behalf of an agent. At the time, Taplin was not a registered agent and allegedly failed to notify LSU within seven days of contacting the players.40 In the process of investigating Taplin, information was allegedly uncovered that led to the arrest of Travelle Gaines, who at the time was an assistant strength coach at LSU. Gaines was booked on a felony count of engaging in activities prohibited by Louisiana’s UAAA. Gaines allegedly invited players to his home where they came into contact with a California-based agent, C. J. Laboy. Gaines’s attorney denied that his client had done anything illegal. The UAAA and SPARTA have been applauded and criticized.
Critics assert the legislation protects the NCAA’s and colleges’ interests more than those of student-athletes. Others assert that the statutes fall short of providing the types of sanctions and penalities that will deter agents from engaging in improper conduct. . . . Others argue that the UAAA and SPARTA fall short in not providing student-athletes with a cause of action for harm caused to them by the conduct of agents. . . . The statutes have been viewed as erecting barriers to entry that will advantage agents in larger firms and/or those agents with substantial numbers of clients. In this regard, the UAAA has been criticized as detrimental to independent agents who, notwithstanding cross-registration, must still pay registration fees in any state in which they plan to solicit and sign athlete-clients. . . . Finally, the legislation has been characterized as a band-aid that fails to get to the root cause of the problems in the agent industry—a system of entitlement that corrupts athletes from the time that they are in their early teenage years.
On the other hand, the UAAA and SPARTA have been applauded as representing steps in the right direction toward attempting to level the playing field with respect to agent competition for clients. The statutes’ disclosure requirements have been commended for providing information that assists athletes and their families in making informed decisions. In response to those critics who assert that the UAAA does not go far enough, proponents point out that the UAAA was not designed to address every problem confronting the agent industry. Proponents of the statutes also assert that the problems in the industry are as much about greed and morality as anything else. Ultimately, as morality cannot be legislated, mechanisms must be implemented that have some deterrent effect and the UAAA and SPARTA represent such mechanisms.
The UAAA is an important step forward. At a minimum, “the act will establish uniformity and provide for reciprocity among the States adopting it.” And while the UAAA or any other legislation is incapable of eradicating all of the problems associated with athlete agents, it will make compliance easier and encourage compliance by providing for reciprocal registration and renewal. The UAAA goes a long way in addressing many of the operational issues that confront the athlete agent who is attempting to comply with the law of each individual state. Uniformity makes it easier for those agents who desire to comply to do so. Note two commentators, “The UAAA provides some welcomed relief in that, as a uniform law, it is intended for adoption in all states so that consistent obligations and results can be achieved in any state in which an athlete agent conducts business. Further, its provisions, with . . . [a] few exceptions . . . serve the states well by being relatively straightforward and uncluttered. However, to accept the UAAA as a good thing for states to adopt, one must first believe that athlete agents should be regulated in the first place.” As agent Bill Strickland maintains, “conceptually, it is a step in the right direction.”
The UAAA and SPARTA represent the statutory layers of a web of complementary mechanisms that attempt to address specific problems in the athlete agent industry. The others layers include non-agent-specific federal and state statutes, players’ associations’ agent regulations, NCAA regulations, and common law principles (e.g., breach of contract and fraud). One critical factor to the effectiveness of the UAAA and SPARTA layers of agent regulatory strategies may lie in the willingness of the states and the FTC to devote the resources required to aggressively implement the statutes’ provisions. Another key variable was described as follows:
Agents profess that they want a level playing field. Similarly, athletes and their families claim that they do not want to be bothered by overly aggressive sports agents. Yet athletes remain conspicuously silent when called upon to participate in the enforcement processes intended to prevent and provide relief from improper agent behavior. In short, the success of agent legislation in ameliorating the industry’s problems will depend to a large extent on the willlingness of the two principal actors in the agent industry—agents and players—to play an active role in these regulatory schemes.
Even with a uniform law in place, wrongdoing will continue. After the long wait for a uniform attempt to deal with sports agent issues, it took the UAAA and SPARTA to crystallize the obvious—that there is no panacea.
About the authors: Kenneth L. Shropshire is David Hauck Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative. He is author of Agents of Opportunity: Sports Agents and Corruption in Collegiate Sports (http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/14466.html), also published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. Timothy Davis is the John W. and Ruth H. Turnage Professor of Law at Wake Forest University School of Law. He is coauthor of Sports and the Law: A Modern Anthology.